The D&D Series Has Arrived

While we wait for the official Dungeons & Dragons movie to make its debut, fans of the tabletop game have something else to tide them over: a fantasy series that hews closely to its source material. No, not Games of Throneswhich forged its own unique path – but The Witcher. Please note that this discussion involves spoilers.

thewitcher2.jpg

Meet The Witcher

The Witcher, created by author Andrzej Sapkowski, is one of the most popular fantasy series in Poland. It has turned into a transmedia franchise in its own right in video games, novels, movies, and the most recent series on Netflix. It follows Geralt of Rivia, a white-haired monster-hunter with powers deriving from his “mutations” which range from superhuman strength to the ability to see in the dark. The series is so popular in Poland that, when former President Barack Obama visited, the prime minister gave him a copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

Watching the Netflix series makes it clear that The Witcher borrows several tropes from Dungeons & Dragons wholesale, enough that it’s less of a homage and more a part of the series’ DNA. Let’s start with the characters.

Classes & Archetypes

The Witcher Netflix series references several characters by class names that will sound familiar. Screenrant assigns a class to each, but in some cases the series itself names them outright: Jaskier is a bard (complete with lute and bawdy lyrics), Mousesack is a druid, and—although this is controversial—Geralt could originally have been a drow, complete with white hair, swordplay, darkvision, and magic. And like any good adventurer, Geralt’s constantly chugging potions to give him an edge.

Of the species that populate the world of The Witcher, there are dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. All of those species together do not appear in most fantasy works—Tolkien used “gnome” differently than D&D does—until the tabletop game. The term “halfling” was embraced by TSR after legal problems arose due to the usage of “hobbits," as explained in Art & Arcana:
Just as D&D began to cross over into the mainstream, a few fantastic creatures had to exit TSR’s menagerie. Elan Merchandising, a sublicensee of the Tolkien Estate who held certain non-literary rights to Tolkien’s creations, sent TSR a cease-and- desist order that led to the replacement of hobbits, ents, and balrogs with halflings, treants, and the balor type of demon. While this change was largely cosmetic, it did throw a speedbump in TSR’s path, which forced hasty modifications to the Basic Set and delayed the Monster Manual until the final days of December.
In the second episode, Geralt encounters elves. These elves are less Tolkien-esque and more like D&D’s elves—common enough that they are somewhat exotic but not so rare that they live separately from humanity. Yennifer, the sorceress, is herself a half-elf. There are also dwarves, who are similar to D&D dwarves—miners with a fondness for pickaxes and hammers in the third episode.

The creatures the characters encounter provide a much stronger hint about The Witcher’s D&D roots however.

The Creatures

It’s episode 6 where D&D’s influence is most apparent: dragons. The Witcher world features the full range of chromatic dragons: black, green, red, and white. In episode 6, a shapeshifting “golden dragon” is introduced and it follows the peculiar evolution of D&D’s gold dragon, which morphed from its original incarnation as an Asian-inspired serpentine beast to a more Western-style winged dragon with gold scales. The shapeshifting in particular strongly identifies this dragon as having tabletop gaming roots.

The ghouls in episode 8 that attack Geralt look very similar to D&D’s ghouls (themselves inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s portrayal) and have a bite that incapacitates the witcher; while not quite paralyzing him, it does knock him out with vivid hallucinations. And then there’s the “doppler” in that same episode, a shapeshifter that has blue skin that bears a striking resemblance to D&D’s doppelganger in later editions of the game.

There are also monsters that haven’t yet appeared in the Netflix series that are noted by The Witcher wiki to be inspired by D&D, like the treant—a species unique to D&D because the original name, “ent” was contested by the Tolkien estate. Ironically the one species that the wiki conflates with a D&D monster (vodyanoy as inspired by sahuagin) were in fact inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s deep ones. The reference to Dagon is a strong clue as to their origin.

Just How Much Influence Did D&D Have?

This is not to say that The Witcher owes its entire existence to D&D. Part of what makes The Witcher so appealing is how it combines fairy tales with traditional fantasy tropes. The series gives a modern veneer to fantasy, using “mutations” (a word that might sound modern to traditionalists) and freely weaving swear words into each episode. And what does Sapkowski have to say?
Since I was a kid I haven’t played any games—with a possible exception of bridge and poker. Video games are simply not for me, I prefer books as entertainment.
Perhaps Sapkowski never played tabletop games but read the books. Given that D&D is now so ingrained in fantasy culture, it’s started to refract back on itself in a recursive loop (yes, there’s a Witcher RPG) that muddles the origins of common tropes. But if the chromatic dragons, halflings, and treants are any indication … The Witcher may well have been inspired by D&D.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

TheSword

Explorer
I think it is worth noting that D&D borrows many of its tropes from the same sources - Eastern European legends of monsters, spirits and magic. As well as the fantasy fiction of the mid 20th. It is plausible that the writer wasn’t familiar with the D&D game as he says and simply reached the same conclusions. To be honest magic in the series more closer resembles that of Ursula Le Guin than anything in D&D and Jaskier is simply a classic minstrel rather than the spell using d&d bard.

I totally agree that it is an excellent approximation, and perfect for anyone looking for a d&d tv fix. It helps that the series is really good and stands on its own feet!
 
If the author of The Witcher says that he never play D&D, it is not allowed to say that Witcher is influenced by D&D. If there are some similarities it depends on the fact that D&D collect tropes from fantasy that collect tropes from Classic and Medieval Age European culture. Fantasy and D&D can have point of similarity simply because they share parents.
 
If the author of The Witcher says that he never play D&D, it is not allowed to say that Witcher is influenced by D&D. If there are some similarities it depends on the fact that D&D collect tropes from fantasy that collect tropes from Classic and Medieval Age European culture. Fantasy and D&D can have point of similarity simply because they share parents.
True, however I am reliably informed, by somone who read the untranslated books, that the TV show is very much a westernised version of the stories.

So a D&D influence may be creeping into the TV adaptation.
 

SMHWorlds

Explorer
There are such close ties to RPG in general for the game series that the DNA is evident. Combining Sapkowski's writing with CDPR's games, and the right kind of aesthetic, the show is a step forward in what fantasy can be as a visual entertainment.
 

Kramodlog

Naked and living in a barrel
D&D is so well known that it influenced Warcraft. Than Warcraft became so popular that it influenced D&D and we got 4e.

At some point it is all self-referential.
 

dave2008

Legend
Just How Much Influence Did D&D Have?.
Zero. None. Nothing. The series uses some of the same fables, myths, and folklore that is all. This article screams of click bait. And "stealing the popularity"
I disagree. The Witcher (the stories, not the TV show) have black dragons that spit acid, white dragons that breath cold and red dragons that breath fire and shape-shifting gold dragons. That is almost straight out of D&D (not AD&D)
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I disagree. The Witcher (the stories, not the TV show) have black dragons that spit acid, white dragons that breath cold and red dragons that breath fire and shape-shifting gold dragons. That is almost straight out of D&D (not AD&D)
And the author said he never played the game. So I will believe the primary source.
But since treants are talking trees, Tolkein, D&D, and witcher stole from Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz.
 

talien

Community Supporter
Adam Kusmirek on Twitter pointed this out:
He is a bit dishonest in the interview - he even wrote a fantasy RPG "Oko Yrrhedesa" (The Eye of Yrrhedes) in 1995 (the first versions of the game were published in 1990 in polish magazine "Fenix" and in 1994 in "Magia i miecz"). Sadly,he felt ashemed of it when he became famous.
And Adam's right! There's an entry on the Witcher wiki -- Sapkowski wrote his own fantasy role-playing game: The Eye of Yrrhedes

This is hard to parse with his claim that since he was a kid he hasn't played any games...
 
Yeah, I can't think of any source for that sort of draconic nomenclature/hierarchy other than D&D. Smaug is "red-gold" and breathes fire, but all dragons in Tolkien breathe fire (see also Ancalagon the Black).

I think it accurate that we're seeing all sorts of recursive influences going on. At this point, unless a fantasy author has somehow never seen or read anything else in the fantasy field, the influence of D&D or stuff that influenced D&D is unavoidable.

I enjoyed the heck out of the Witcher TV show. Loved the Wild Hunt videogames. I'll admit that the books took me a bit to warm up to, though.

I disagree. The Witcher (the stories, not the TV show) have black dragons that spit acid, white dragons that breath cold and red dragons that breath fire and shape-shifting gold dragons. That is almost straight out of D&D (not AD&D)
 

JeffB

Hero
For what it's worth, my friend described The Witcher as "a bad D&D campaign I can't stop watching".
That's cos of all the boobies.


On a somewhat more serious note- I warmed up to the show by the fourth episode. But the D&D cartoon is a "true-er' D&D experience. Witcher seems pretty vanilla modern fantasy post Sword of Shannara*

* with more boobies
 
I dig the new Witcher RPG. It does a great job at capturing the feel while still managing to balance a party that could consist of a witcher, a bard, and a blacksmith.

The witcher class specializes in monster lore, but they're not unbeatable killing machines (though they can of course fight and use Signs). But without someone to handle social challenges, you'll likely be overcharged, underpaid, and run out of town now and then. And without a blacksmith, your gear will degrade.

It's a little crunchier than I would like (mostly around combat), but isn't too bad altogether.

If I do ever get to run it, I think I will do away with the whole "only boys can become witchers" part.

There is a Witcher Rpg.If you wanted to play something similar in a D&D campaign.
 

Superchunk77

Explorer
I liked the show, except for the dragon hunt episode. That one just felt too random with very little to do with the underlying plot. I liked it even more after I read up on the protagonist (Nilfgaard). I haven't read the novels .....yet.
 

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